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The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds raised some useful points. I welcome his cross-party support for the valuable and important work of the police. It is important that we send a message out to the police that Parliament supports the work they do. I am glad that we can do that in this debate on a challenging area of policing.

The legal test for the use of force, which is one of the concerns the hon. Gentleman raised, is set out in the Criminal Law Act 1967. That applies to any use of force. The law is clear that any use of force must be reasonable and appropriate to the threat or perceived threat that officers face. The disproportionate use of force is unacceptable and any officer found to be using excessive force will be disciplined accordingly.

Where there is doubt or concern about the use of force, the police should be scrutinised. That is rightly happening under the auspices of the IPCC and HMIC. Once again, I stress that most officers do not overuse force, but they are working in very challenging areas. At the sharp end of policing, officers need to know that they are scrutinised and will be trained to do the job properly. We need to be sure that we have safeguards in place for any officers who overstep the mark. We will continue to work with all police agencies and associations to ensure that the legal position on police use of force is embedded in every area of policing from the first day of training right the way through. We will also ensure there is consistency in different areas of guidance that impinge on the use of force; for example, armed policing and officer safety training. Those will be cemented in the code of practice.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of there not being enough trained officers. We take that very seriously, as do ACPO, which is working on building regional capability. The Home Office will be producing a code of practice on public order to ensure that the police have appropriately trained officers. That is core policing and, as I mentioned, it is important to have that across 43 forces, because of the need to move officers, from time to time, into other force areas.

The HMIC is clear that the issue is not more training, but better training. ACPO and the National Policing Improvement Agency have already piloted a new command-level training approach. I am happy to provide the hon. Gentleman with guidance on that as necessary. We agree that guidance needs to be implemented, and that the Olympics will be a challenge in that respect, so we need to make sure we have got it right.

Mr. Ruffley: If the Minister could provide some written material along the lines she has suggested, particularly in relation to 2012, it would be extremely useful for all parties.

Meg Hillier: As I am not the lead Minister in that area, I cannot promise exactly what I can provide, but I will pass the matter directly on to the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism. There might be some minor issues concerning the security of the Olympics that we cannot reveal widely to the public, but if we can reveal that information to hon. Members, we will do so as appropriate. The intention is certainly to be open about the matter.

I was also grateful to the hon. Gentleman-harmony breaks out on this cold Thursday afternoon-for expressing his desire to have more bang for our buck, as he put it.
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That is very much core to the Home Office's approach. We do not necessarily need to use more money to do these things but, in everything we are doing, we should weigh every public pound and use it as effectively as possible. The public purse is not an automated teller machine, even for policing, and we need to make sure that we balance money properly. We are working towards joint procurement strategies on police and public order equipment. There is greater collaboration between forces in line with the protective services agenda. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman look at the White Paper, "Protecting the Public: Supporting the Police to Succeed" for more detail on that.

I think I have covered most of the issues raised-I am just checking to see if there is anything I have missed. We agree that the Northern Ireland model is good, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said, and the climate camp at Blackheath shows that we can have proper, proportionate policing and dialogue between the police and those involved.

I hope that I have provided reassurance this afternoon about the Government's commitment to upholding the right to peaceful protest and to providing police officers with the support that they need. We in the Home Office and the police have undertaken to deliver a programme of work by summer this year that will directly address a number of the Committee's recommendations. We might disagree on some small areas, but I hope I have reassured my hon. Friend that, where the Committee has evidence on certain issues, we are always happy to consider that. Once again, I pay due respect to how the Committee has gathered the evidence and to the considered way in which it produced its report.

In the White Paper on policing, we pledged to work with the police and the public to ensure that the recommendations of the HMIC report are properly acted upon and to act as an agent for change. I am encouraged by everyone's commitment to drive forward support for our front-line police officers, and I look forward to continuing engagement with the Joint Committee on the programme of work as it progresses throughout the year.

4.44 pm

Mr. Dismore: We have had a constructive debate and there has been a great deal of agreement. It is unfortunate that when winding up such a debate, one always wants to stress the points on which we have not agreed, to put down markers or have a second bite at a particular argument.

I think my hon. Friend the Minister did not quite get what I was saying about the escalation issue in relation to protest. No one wants anybody to get hurt, whether it be a police officer or a protester, and what came out of the discussions that we had last week in Portcullis House was that policing can never be a no-risk occupation. There will always be an element of risk in policing, and the point made to me in Northern Ireland, and by those from the police service in our discussions last week, was that that was accepted. No one wants to take an unnecessary risk, but if things are done properly, it can sometimes de-escalate tension if certain risks are taken.

I come back to the point that Assistant Chief Constable McCausland made to us about the challenge he gave to his officers when he said, "Look, I'm not asking you
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to do something I'm not prepared to do." He went to the head of what was, I think, a very difficult loyalist march in a Catholic area and proved that with proper, no-surprises policing, and proper discussions between people who come from difficult and conflicting circumstances, such scenarios can be de-escalated, rather than escalated.

It is not a question of uniform or no uniform; it is a question of the policing approach. At the moment, the policing approach is all or nothing. That was brought home to us not just by our conclusions, but by the evidence that we were given, including from the police themselves and HMIC. It is important for there to be more sophisticated police training, particularly at the command level-bronze, silver and gold-to show that the objective is not to go straight to full-on riot policing, but to try to find ways of bringing tensions down, rather than pushing them up.

The hon. Member for Cambridge made the point that the way in which the containment tactic is used to push people together increases the tension, particularly if riot police hit people on the legs with the edges of shields to try to push them back when there is no space for them to go to. We saw that there were people with their hands up saying, "We're not part of a riot," yet they were still being treated as if they were. That is not de-escalating the tension-it is potentially increasing the tension and increasing confrontation where there was none to start with.

My hon. Friend the Minister and other hon. Members are absolutely right to say that the overwhelming majority of protests happen perfectly peacefully, with proper co-ordination with the police and without any difficulty at all. It is inevitable that we have to focus on when things have gone wrong, because by doing so we can try to improve things for the future and ensure that such difficulties do not arise.

That is why, I am afraid, I have to come back again to the question of mediators or intermediaries. I fully accept my hon. Friend's point that the police want to be able and should be able to communicate directly with individuals, both on the front line of the protest and at an organisational level. However, occasionally, as she accepted, trust has broken down to such an extent that there is no dialogue at all. The question is how to break through that lack of dialogue.

The hon. Member for Cambridge tried to deal with that issue-he did not achieve a great deal, but he did try. The Northern Ireland experience shows that such an approach is not a one-off thing and that it takes time to build those difficult relationships. Building trust between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and some of the republican movement was a very difficult thing to achieve, but it was done through the use of intermediaries to start the dialogue. Direct contact then developed between the police and those involved.

Meg Hillier: We are talking at cross purposes here. The difference is that the situation in Northern Ireland developed over a long time; there was no sudden single event for which that approach was necessary. Those involved were dealing with communities that were entrenched over many years-in fact, for my entire lifetime, until recently.

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We are talking here about individual protests that, as we say, are mostly peaceable. Sometimes those protests escalate, but who is able to communicate best on the ground? It should be our police. According to my hon. Friend's model, at what point would it be right to bring in a mediator? The fact that a mediator might be available could even escalate the problems further. We have the right approach and, as we set out in the White Paper, we are all about communicating, not de-escalating.

Mr. Dismore: Of course it should be the police. My hon. Friend is right that in Northern Ireland there was a long history that had to be dealt with, but the other case is not a one-off. The same group of protesters, the climate camp collection, have had that problem time and again; that is why the trust has broken down. Although there might have been trust at first, it has dissipated and now has to be rebuilt. The question is how we rebuild it. There have been more than half a dozen of those confrontational demonstrations in which dialogue has not taken place.

David Howarth: I would like to add another observation that I have made over the past few years about trust breaking down. The Minister referred to situations in which the police communicate perfectly well with demonstrators, but those tend to be traditional processions where the police understand what the demonstrators are up to and the rules of the game. However, when demonstrators are doing things other than taking part in a normal procession, and when their lifestyles and values are perhaps unfamiliar to the police, it is sometimes useful to have a mediator. In the situation I found myself in, I concluded that I started too late and that we needed a number of different rounds.

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman makes his point well. We have seen new forms of protest evolve because the traditional forms of protest, frankly, do not attract any attention. It is inevitable that some people will be offended, as the whole purpose of protest, as I said earlier, is to cause some disruption; otherwise, no one would take any notice. What we have seen at the climate camp, and with similar types of activity, are new ideas on how to attract attention when protesting. We have an obligation, under human rights law, to facilitate protest, and sometimes that will be disruptive. The problem in this case is that the police cannot cope with something outside their expectations, and that is why we get that escalation.

We must try to get to a situation in which protesters are confident that, if they talk to the police, they will not immediately be prevented from doing what they want to do. The police might want to fiddle around the edges, and a bit of to and fro in negotiations is fair enough, but if they simply say, "No, you can't do that," there will be no dialogue-we will have a dialogue of the deaf. We need a way of brokering an agreement when new forms of protest are used that are outside the police's basic experience, as that will enable the protesters to make their point in an acceptable way and the protest to be policed in a civilised way.

The difficulty is how to get the two sides talking when there is absolutely no trust between them. Trust is what we have to build. Sometimes, a mediator can achieve
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that trust to kick-start the process. The sooner the mediator can pull out and the trust can build and ferment of its own accord, the better, but how do we get the process started when there is no trust to start with?

Meg Hillier: I hope that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that in Blackheath the police are building bridges and trust with the climate protesters. There is a difference between building bridges on a soft basis and having hard mediators come in at the final point. Does he agree that it is important that the police understand the culture of the people they are dealing with and do not do that through an intermediary, which would put a distance between themselves and protesters, rather than having the contact policing that is central to our model?

Mr. Dismore: As I said earlier, I appreciate what happened at Blackheath, as both the protesters and the police pulled back, which was good. I think that we would all agree that a protest on Blackheath is different from a protest in the middle of the City of London, with regard to potential disruption. It is good that relationships can be built. We are not talking about hard mediation, but about trying to get two sides talking. We have made our point, although my hon. Friend the Minister might not be wedded to it.

The other issue that the Minister raised related to section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000-again. I am prepared to have a little wager with her that what will happen in the Grand Chamber is not what she thinks will happen. There is no question about the need for counter-terrorism powers to be used for counter-terrorism purposes. Indeed, Ministers-I am not sure whether she has said this today-have told our Committee that section 44 should be used strictly for counter-terrorism purposes only and not as a public order tool. The real problem is that it is being used as a public order tool
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when there is no question of any terrorist threat at all and as a shortcut by the police to stop and search people because they have no other grounds for doing so.

If the police have to have reasonable suspicion under sections 1, 60 or 43, that is fine. If they think that something is going wrong or that someone has a weapon, for example, they are entitled to use stop-and-search powers without having to use section 44 because they would have reasonable suspicion. The problem with section 44 is that the police can stop and search people with no suspicion at all simply because an area has been designated as potentially at risk from terrorists. Even though the overall area is now much less than the whole of London, which it used to be, some of the areas involved are still pretty broad.

The real problem is not only that that undermines confidence in counter-terrorism legislation generally, but that it is over-broad. If 250,000 people are stopped under section 44 and not one is arrested for a terrorist offence-we should remember just how broad our terrorism offences now are-that indicates to me that section 44 might not have been used for its original purpose. That argument has been accepted by Ministers on previous occasions. Ministers have said that it should be used only for counter-terrorism purposes, but it does not happen that way.

My final point is about civil injunctions; I do not think that the Minister understands what we are saying about those. Civil injunctions are about changing the rules of court, not changing substantive law. They are about trying to get a balanced playing field and a cheaper and more effective way of protecting people, and about the right to protest.

Question put and agreed to.

4.56 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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